Edit: the original video was taken down, but you can find the recording here.
Sun Ra is more than a legend of music; he’s also one of the most intriguing orators of his time. To hear him speak is to be swept away into his vision of the world and beyond—and as the video here proves, he transcended all traditional ideas in favor of a visionary blend of Gnostic and Egyptian mythology, esoteric philosophy and science-fiction.
During his 1971 stint as artist-in-residence at UC Berkeley, Sun Ra gave lectures during the spring semester known officially as African-American Studies 198 and variously as Sun Ra 171, The Black Man In The Universe, and The Black Man In The Cosmos.“In a typical lecture, Sun Ra wrote biblical quotes on the board and then ‘permutated’ them—rewrote and transformed their letters and syntax into new equations of meaning, while members of the Arkestra passed through the room, preventing anyone from taping the class,” wrote John F. Szwed in his Sun Ra biography Space Is The Place: The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra.
Despite their efforts to prohibit documentation of the lectures, one recording did surface—and the fascinating glimpse into the mind of a man whose like we may never seen again is embedded below. And under that, peruse the reading list from the course to go further into Sun Ra’s cosmos.
Stream Sun Ra’s 1971 “The Black Man In the Cosmos” lecture.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead
Alexander Hislop: Two Babylons
The Theosophical works of Madame Blavatsky
The Book of Oahspe
Henry Dumas: Ark of Bones
Henry Dumas: Poetry for My People
Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing
David Livingston: Missionary Travels
Theodore P. Ford: God Wills the Negro
Rutledge: God’s Children
Stylus, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1971), Temple University
John S. Wilson: Jazz. Where It Came From, Where It’s At
Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochannan: Black Man of the Nile and His Family
Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney: The Ruins, or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires, and the Law of Nature
The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (Ra’s description = The King James Bible)
Pjotr Demianovitch Ouspensky: A New Model of the Universe. Principles of the Psychological Method in Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion and Art
Frederick Bodmer: The Loom of Language. An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages
(Via Open Culture)